Looking at Work through the Lens of Romans 11:36

“For from him and through him and to him are all things.”
~ Romans 11:36

This small verse and its three tiny phrases have powerful implications for all of life, including our work. Each phrase is a lens, a perspective we can use to better understand “all things.” When we look at our work through each of these lenses, we will be encouraged, empowered, and oriented in all our efforts.

From him
God’s sovereignty reminds us that our work is no accident. Where we live, the company we work for, and the job we do at that company were all determined by God’s gracious providence (Acts 17:24–26). On top of that, God also controls the individual tasks assigned to us each day and the interruptions or emergencies that invade.

Joseph is an excellent example of God’s sovereignty over our work. God placed Jospeh in Potiphar’s house and blessed his work until he managed the entire estate. Then God imprisoned Joseph, and he worked like a slave for years. Finally God elevated him to the peak of Egyptian government, at the right hand of the Pharaoh.

Whether or not this reality is comforting will depend on our view of God’s character. If we know him to be wise, gracious, merciful, and loving, God’s control can change our perspective on even the most difficult work assignment.

But knowing God is in control is not enough. We must submit to God’s rule and receive his portion for us in faith. We need to believe God’s goodness in whatever circumstances we face, and then we need to act faithfully in those circumstances—with righteous character and humble dependence on his grace.

Receiving our work as “from God” doesn’t mean we cannot look for a new job (1 Corinthians 7:21). God sends all kinds of circumstances, and we are meant to respond in different ways to each. We receive health from God in gratitude, but we also embrace it and use it. We receive sickness from God as well, but we don’t need to embrace it (James 5:14)—a faithful response can include going to the doctor or taking medication.

Through him
The fact that our work is “through God” comforts us in two ways. First, that every sacrifice of praise we make in our work does not stand on its own merits—it is presented to the Father through Christ, perfected by his life and death for us. And secondly, we do not labor or achieve success in our own strength; rather, it is by God’s grace at work in us that we are enabled to labor well and succeed in any measure.

Throughout the Bible, God’s grace is apportioned to individual people, empowering them to carry out the work he has called them to do. After giving Moses instructions to build the tabernacle and its instruments, God appoints craftsmen to do the work. Not only does he assign them the work, but he also enables them to do it, granting them the skills they require (Exodus 31:1–11).

Jesus illustrates this in his parable of the talents, as each servant is given a different number of talents—representing the unique skills and opportunities God gives each of us (Matthew 25:14–30. But these talents have a purpose: they are to be invested according to the will of the master. Peter says we have each received a unique gift of grace from God with which to serve others (1 Peter 4:10–11). We should use our gift as though God’s grace were channeled through us to the people we serve—which in fact is exactly what is happening.

It is all grace: our intelligence, our skill, our determination (1 Corinthians 4:7). No one worked harder in the early church than Paul, yet he gives ultimate credit for those efforts to God’s grace (1 Corinthians 15:10). We might view these qualities as the ingredients of success; without them, it is harder than baking a cake without eggs and flour. But even if we have all the ingredients, our success is not ensured. We still need God’s grace to give success, just as guards have no hope of protecting the city unless God blesses their efforts (Psalms 127:1–2).

Jesus puts the nail in the coffin by describing us as branches in John 15. Bearing fruit is impossible for any branch that does not stay connected to the vine. Success comes through abiding in Christ, staying close and connected to him. Apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Oh we can run around like crazy people and speak lots of words. We are capable of lots of activity—but on our own it will all amount to nothing.

To him
Finally, faithful work should be directed to God. Everything exists for the glory of God—he manifests his goodness and might in creation and redemption. God shows himself to be stunningly beautiful, so that we might be drawn toward his beauty, for our joy and satisfaction and his eternal praise. And the work that we do each day, each week, does not function outside this grand framework. If we do mundane things like eating and drinking to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), then God’s glory should also be the ultimate purpose of our labor.

The first way in which we glorify God in our work is by our dependent participation. Since we can do nothing apart from Christ, we must depend fully on him to do our work. When God provides the strength for our service, God gets the glory (1 Peter 4:11b).

But God doesn’t strengthen us so we can run around doing whatever we desire. God isn’t a heavenly venture capitalist, scanning the earth for humans with good ideas so he can fund their enterprise. We join God in his work, participating in the good he does in the world. That is why Peter calls us to speak like prophets (1 Peter 4:11a)—so that we will submit our purposes to his and allow his truth to govern our words.

The fact that our work is “to him” also reminds us to see God as the ultimate recipient of our work. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 7 that we all serve Christ, regardless of our circumstances (v21–23). Even as we seek to work well for the sake of our employer, our ultimate aim should be to please the Lord (Ephesians 6:5–8).

All things
So then, wherever you have been called to work, receive it from the hand of God. Whatever you have been called to do today, see it as an assignment from Christ. However your attempts go, trust that God is directing the results. Trust God to supply you with everything you need to do his will. Believe that your best efforts, done by faith, are fully pleasing to the Father because of Jesus' perfect life. And in every task you undertake, whether small or massive, see it as a way to serve and glorify your Master by serving the people around you.

Ben Whiting




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